my love for smithfield: block t

The Studio

The old doors of the lift rattle open before I prop them wide with a green and white weave basket filled with eight sewing machine peddles and two coiled extension leads. Out come the machines, two by two, and then the bags of sewing notions and left over sewing projects from a class I taught that morning. It might only be one flight up but the lift makes my weekly workout just a little bit easier. Inevitably, I will open the door to the first floor of Block T and Chris will take one look at my stack of machines and immediately offer help with moving everything down the hall to the studio. Chances are that I probably had collected the machines that morning on my own, taught a two hour sewing class and have just lugged everything back again. With each week the machines get lighter as I get stronger and my appreciation for Block T grows.

I was a latecomer to Block T but an early enthusiast for sewing. Following a run of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in secondary school my drama teacher told me that I should really take up costume design as a career because I came alive while doing it. “Yes,” I said, “but there is something I love more.” I pursued the first dream while maintaining and developing my sewing skills as part of my oasis of self-care. I would sew dresses for friends here and there while up-skilling in courses that were relevant. In my visits to Canada I began to take up quilting too and was adopted into the great big quilting family that is somewhere in every Canadian town.


Two years ago I found myself in a fairly important transition time and was looking for a way that I could contribute to the community as an act of love for it, no strings attached. Generosity that is genuine and wholehearted changes places, it changes people and it can change communities. Sewing came to mind even though I had never taught a class before in my life. When I told family and friends they confirmed what I had been thinking – this made sense! It was a natural progression from some of the community work I had been doing before. At the same time, I was terrified. Theoretically, it made sense. Practically, I was recovering from some emotional wounds that left me afraid of anything I thought I was good at before. I was even having panic attacks when sitting in front of a sewing machine about to stitch a straight line. Friends patiently walked with me as I breathed through fear and took a courageous step in asking a local school if they could do with a sewing teacher. Within a month we had scrounged together ancient sewing machines and a diverse class of students. Soon I was getting calls from other local services asking if I could teach a group with them as well. Some generous people donated money for me to put together proper equipment for classes and in summer of 2015 all of this moved with me into Block T where I began sharing studio space with my good friend, co-founder of C Squared and visual artist, Laura Pettit.

Sharing a space with a visual artist is inspiring. Each week I enter into a space that is charged with eyes that see differently and shapes and colours that express intangible realities that resonate deeply. As I drift through the hallways of Block T, I am reminded that the world can look different. This old probation office building has been a Petri dish where new hopes and dreams for the future are given a chance to start incredibly small in order to become something that grows big enough to shape the culture of a city. Our practices interact with each other. During one Tuesday evening before Christmas I was in the art classroom with a sewing class. Paint was splashed across surfaces and well used easels stood as our backdrop – a room well loved with the lingering affects of art. Our gift in return was the calming smell of lavender from making scented heat packs. On evenings that I have ended up staying late to prepare for a class the next day, Kevin will knock on my door and ask if I have listened to this artist or that song. He helps me find them on my computer and they become an unexpected and very welcome soundtrack for my work. It has been an absolute honour to teach basic machine sewing skills as a part of their skillset programme as well as in the community. It is one way that I have been able to exchange generosity for the environment, opportunity, plasters (for when I cut my fingers open by being careless with a rotary blade) and helping hands every week.

Block T is a generous place. A dreamer’s place. A culture maker’s place. I, for one, will be sad to see it leave Smithfield Square in the coming months as it seeks a new home. Homelessness is a problem in this city. Meanwhile, I will be thankful as I think about my love for Smithfield and the role that Block T has played in strengthening many things that have been weak.


my love for smithfield: cibo creative kitchen

IMG_5536Dreaming of days where you can just tuck yourself into your favourite corner? That place where the world disappears as you meet with friends, or where you don’t feel like anyone is watching you spending quality time with story-lines coming alive off a page? That corner where you can hold onto your cup of coffee or tea and have someone bring you something fresh from the oven? Take a walk to the north end of Smithfield, to the corner between Brunswick Street and Grangegorman. A two story, old brick building stands there with its dimmed old florescent light sign “Italian Restaurant” is scrawled across the top and weather beaten menu hangs beside the window. Cibo Creative Kitchen has found its home here for just less than a year now, thanks to a couple of warm-hearted Italians who have made this city theirs.

IMG_5533Soft twinkly lights shine their welcome from inside. Step into the entrance and open the door to your left. Warmth encloses you in a coming home sort of feeling. The music and cosy feel lend to sharing a smile or few words with strangers and unknown neighbours. Behind the tall, beautiful, carved and polished counter Rocco or Stella wave their hello. Small eclectic tables are covered in colourful oilcloth. Lights are covered with old soup cans. There is a corner nook with a round coffee table made of an old bicycle tire. Two small couches are pushed against a bookcase full of inviting and inspiring shared reads. This is that place of comfort – that corner of this house of Dublin that just feels right. From the kitchen come seasonal pastries, soups and sandwiches. Stella shares her creativity with something new every week, an invention of inspiration. If looking to have something warmer, you might just find she has made her grandmother’s lasagna that day.

On Wednesday afternoons if you arrive around 2:00 you will find Rocco helping us move two tables together so we can set up colouring books for the community. Colouring books for children, colouring books for adults, dot-to-dot and blank pages sit on the corner ready to be used by anyone needing a moment of downtime. Chairs surround the tables with jackets hanging off the backs of them. Young, old, rich, poor, local, international – the space is filled by anyone who adventures into the comfort of this hideaway. Conversation flows. They have given us a generous welcome into the treasure they have created for the community. They have become friends.

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Since writing this post, Stella and Rocco have both moved into other endeavours in the city. We were so thankful for them and look forward to hearing about what they are up to next!

taking hospitality to the streets

DublinOf all the days to not have brought my car into town for work! After 13 hours in city centre I was left carrying half a tray of uncovered cinnamon buns through inner-city streets at 10pm. There are plenty of people who might think this is a bad idea. You just never know how safe it is (I’ve never had a problem). As I walked down the hill from my church in the dark a group of rowdy teen lads from the area spotted my tray full of “cakes”. My initial reaction was … relief! I might not have to carry all these buns home with me!! Sure enough the tallest lad, towering over me, stopped about two feet away from me, reached his hand out and asked for one. “Absolutely!” I said to him. Pretty soon I was surrounded by a wall of lads each looking for a late night snack. Their faces transformed into innocent joy as sugar coated their hands:

“You have just made my night. No, seriously, you have.” “Wow, thanks!” “I love you!” “Did you make these?”

In that moment it felt like they had experienced ‘home’ – the space where you are loved for no reason at all and experience nothing except good things without having done a thing to deserve them.

My load lighter, I crossed the river and walked to the top of the hill to wait for my bus. Late night buses to my community don’t have a fantastic reputation either. I haven’t quite figured out why yet. It was only when the bus pulled up that I realise I didn’t have enough money on my bus card to get home. I smiled at the bus driver and offered him a cinnamon bun. He told me I had enough money to just get me home. The bus was quiet. A few young adults sat alone with their headphones in. The only exceptions were two men who were having a conversation across the aisle from each other. One reached out for a cinnamon bun with a question in his eyes. “Of course!” I said to him and then proceeded to offer cinnamon buns to the others on the bus. “Communication!” He exclaimed, “This is exactly what we had been talking about. No one communicates anymore. They all just look down at their phones the whole time.”

The lines across both these men’s faces told me they had lived more lifetimes than their years would allow. So we proceeded to talk about anything and everything. Soon another man and his son came on the bus. The skin on their faces draped over deep hollows. One of my new friends offered them my cinnamon buns, confident that this is what I would want. Finally we convinced the boy to have one. He shyly took one and slowly ate it while the rest of us shook hands and introduced ourselves. One of the men then asked if I was a teacher. “I teach a bit of sewing,” I said. He knew it, he could tell I was a teacher right away. As we got closer to my stop the other asked me if I was a preacher. “You could nearly call me that as well,” I said through a smile. “A sister?” he asked. “Not quite,” I responded. He was working away with something in his hands before extending it towards me. “I don’t have much to give you,” he explained as he handed me a small candle. Shaking their hands and blessing them I exited the bus near my house.

I think they met God last night – him in me. The reactions they had were the same I have when I mysteriously experience his Presence near me. There is a rightness, a letting go, a vulnerability, an accepting of kindness. I was humbled. A tray full of cinnamon buns and perfect love that doesn’t leave space for fear, such a small taste of heaven. These small offerings of hospitality are my fish and loaves. Miracles are made of such things.

my love for smithfield: sparks bistro

2015-08-12 16.34.56-1“Good morning! How are you?”

Eyes shine behind a genuine welcome at Sparks Bistro whether it is a busy day or a quiet day. “It is good to see you. What can I get for you today?”

Service is laced with the joie de vivre of staff who love their place of work as much as the regulars do. It is a beautiful little gem in Smithfield where elegance is understated in the simplicity of the open plan cafe. Decadent sauces sizzle from the kitchen on the other side of the counter while the lunchtime crowd fills every inch of floor space. Chef, Guiseppe Cipolla, creates daily specials that intertwine an Irish style with exotic influence: sea bass, Wicklow lamb, steak, chicken, salmon, cod … all paired with veg and sauce that melt in the mouth. With good food in front of you and lively conversations you could forget the world for an hour.

2015-08-12 16.33.18-1In the morning, afternoon or evening you might just find a quieter table to have a more intimate conversation or get some work done. That is how I ended up in Sparks for the first time. Laura and I met at the table beside the window shortly after Sparks fully opened in January of this year.  Comfortably situated, we began putting together plans for C Squared – the community creative project we are working on. It didn’t take long before I began to bring everyone who came to visit or suggest to friends that we meet for coffee, lunch or dinner either in the main room of the bistro or, on a special occasion, in the beautiful tea room in the back.

2015-08-14 12.50.13-1On a long summer evening, Sparks takes on the feel of a classic European local in the making, situated in its perfect corner of the world. Confident in good food, good wine, good service and good friends – what more do you need unless you are searching for the chaos of hurried crowds searching for a night out. And in this city, Sparks is affordable with a two course dinner menu for under €17. You’d be hard pressed to find something equal in quality of flavour or service off Grafton Street for twice the price.

Perhaps Sparks is a small influence on the city that Dublin will become. With rich hospitality and excellence in the smallest things, Hassan Higazy and his staff take the finest things of local community living and create something extraordinary.

sewing – taking it slow

11147844_887904891271181_7059155427763274568_nLearning something new requires patience to stop the beginners anxiety schedule that hinders success on the first try. I should know, I am an expert at failing the first time – like when I started learning to play the bodhran.

This past year I have started teaching a few community sewing classes. The youngest student was 8 and the oldest … well, a lot older. Recently I started teaching a small group of teen girls and decided it was time to pull out some of the technical skill sheets that I hated when taking 4-H in grade 6. Although I learned a lot in that year, I also decided that I didn’t like sewing. When I took it up again five years later and enjoyed it I determined to never make someone start sewing with boring things like sample sheets. I decided that I would teach through projects rather than regimented scraps of fabric. It is eight months since I started and I am finally now coming to terms with the value of small sample scraps as well as something fun to take home. In addition to specific sewing skills, I am making the girls go slow. I am teaching them how to breath and focus on the fabric in hand and peddle under foot so that they will have the emotional and mental stability to sew a straight seam the first time.

Success with sewing begins with learning the patience to take it slow. Slow down when you lose focus. Slow down when you get frustrated. Slow down to line up the fabric. Slow down to control the speed and outcome. Slow down to keep your mind on the first step even when the second step doesn’t make sense yet. My sewing students get to see success and trouble-shoot problems faster because they are learning to take it slow. They get to see success because they are learning technical skill. Somehow they are loving it!

fruit of the spirit – not just child’s play

“I guess you could say that I’m like a tree, growing up from the ground. I pray that the Lord would water me so everyone around could look and see the fruit I bear and then enjoy the fruit I share. All my life I want to be like Galatians 5:22 and 23!” ~ The Fruit of the Spirit, Upward

Dancing bananas, apples, oranges, grapes and pineapple labeled with name tags use their jazz hands – a colourful mix-up of fruit that never go off and will always stay happy forever. It is hard to read Galatians 5 without imagining cartoon fruit skipping around the pages in their own little musical performance. When analyzed a little closer, their story is much more happily-ever-after than Noah’s Ark or Jonah and the Whale. We hang laminated fruit by pieces of yarn around children’s necks as they display the spiritual fruit named on it that day. “Well done for being so patient,” we might say. “If I want to win the prize, I need to try harder,” they might conclude.

A game of Upset the Fruit Basket begins as different fruit of the Spirit compete for space in our lives. Only one ever seems to end up “it” while the others remain seated. The only thing supernatural about this fruit is relegated to animations that came to life with songs that make a young child request them over, and over, and over … and over again. They become child’s play – nothing but an unrealistic expectation we enjoyed as entertainment when we were young.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. ~ Galatians 5:22-23

Not our efforts or hard work. Not our self-discipline or yearly goals. Not our natural ability. By God’s Spirit living in us. A mystery that is a little too complicated for me. So, I remember the song we taught children (while I was dressed up as a singing, dancing tree) … “I guess you could say that I’m like a tree, growing up from the ground. I pray that the Lord would water me so everyone around could look and see the fruit I bear and then enjoy the fruit I share. All my life I want to be like Galatians 5:22-23.”

I am growing. I am praying. The Lord is watering. I am bearing. People are enjoying. Simple truths. So simple we can teach a child and so simple we think it is dumbing down something that is actually quite complicated. But that is how God works. We pray. He changes things. There is fruit. It’s his fruit – all of it, none are sitting down. And against these, things there is no law! Imagine …

fruit of the spirit

Before Christmas many people generously sponsored sewing machines for the courses I am teaching. Each one is now named after a fruit of the Spirit,  in Irish … I had to ask a friend to help with that! I am praying that as the Lord “waters me” each person will experience the fruit their machine is named after and know that there is a God. (There are only 8 machines so I used the first 8 included in the fruit of the Spirit)

the influence of the five

reflectionTamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, Mary – the five.

These five women included in the long list of men in Jesus’ lineage are a source of curiosity and wonder. Curiosity, because somehow their lives were worth mentioning. Wonder, because their stories are far from sanitized. Francine Rivers named her collective interpretation of their stories so well when she titled it A Lineage of Grace. For women who live under coverings of shame, their stories are freeing.

One took justice (unconventionally) into her own hands, one was a sex worker, one left her family and turned her back on her religion, one married her husband’s murderer, one mysteriously conceived, two were foreigners, three got pregnant outside of marriage, three were married more than once … and a whole load of other things!

I love that Francine Rivers doesn’t make their stories sound pretty. They are raw. They aren’t the things of pink and frilly dresses with rainbows and ponies. Their stories challenge women who have hidden under calluses of preservation to peal back the layers, giving God permission to really see them. It is in that moment that God lets his love fall and buys back every part of their story and makes them his. There is a sense of awe and a bit of fear.

The stories speak for themselves – God doesn’t care where you came from, what you look like, what trauma you have faced or what choices you have made. At the same time, he does care. He cares a lot! Because his grace doesn’t erase everything that led to this exact moment. His grace infuses our past, present and future with purpose.

For women that I have the incredible honour of walking beside, I deliver the stories of the five as gifts of hope and courage for greater things. One response was:

“If God can do so much through them, what does he expect me to be able to do?”

That is the influence of the five.